ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan had momentum going in the wrong direction when Jim Harbaugh came back to the campus where he was a star quarterback.
The Wolverines were 5-7 in 2014, the fourth and final season in which they won fewer games than the previous year under Brady Hoke. They fired Hoke and hired Harbaugh, moves that have been hailed for turning around the program.
As No. 4 Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) prepared to host Indiana (5-5, 3-4) in its last home game for seniors, including tight end Jake Butt, and perhaps junior Jabrill Peppers, Harbaugh heaped praise on the players who will play in the Big House for the last time Saturday.
“This class has meant so much to me personally, to Michigan football, to all of us,” Harbaugh said. “The direction of the program was going a certain way almost like a locomotive. It's a lot to get it stopped, to get the momentum stopped. It's like stopping a freight train. Credit them for not only getting it stopped, but even getting it turned on the tracks and headed the other direction.”
The Wolverines cut ties with Hoke, who had a 31-20 record, but the players he recruited helped Harbaugh win 10 games last year. This year, they're contending for their first conference championship since 2004 and perhaps the school's first national championship since 1997.
Even though Iowa spoiled Michigan's undefeated season last week with a 14-13 win, the Wolverines are three wins away — against the Hoosiers, at No. 2 Ohio State and in the Big Ten title game — from reaching their goals.
“We reminded ourselves and each other that what we set out for at the beginning of the season is still right in front of us,” Butt said. “We're going to learn from this loss and become tougher and better because of it. We control our own destiny. As long as we keep handling business, we're not worried about what anyone else is doing. We've just got to handle our own business and the rest will take care of itself.”
Here are some things to watch when the Wolverines host Indiana:
UNDER CENTER: Michigan may start John O'Korn for the first time because quarterback Wilton Speight hurt his left shoulder last week against the Hawkeyes. As late as Thursday morning, Harbaugh was refuting reports that Speight would be out for the rest of the season. O'Korn started 16 games at Houston before transferring.
CLOSE CALL: The Hoosiers haven't won in the series since 1987 and are winless at Michigan Stadium since 1967, but they were in a position to beat the Wolverines last season. Indiana had the lead in the final minute before giving up a touchdown with 2 seconds left and losing 48-41 in two overtimes.
“I'm sure they might have it in the back of their mind we kind of stole that game from them last year on their senior day,” Butt said.
TURNOVER TROUBLE: Indiana has fumbled nine times in the last two weeks, losing seven. The rash of turnovers dropped them from No. 3 in the nation after eight games to No. 101 this week. If the Hoosiers are to have any chance of winning at Michigan, they must hold onto the football.
STRIKING A BALANCE: Michigan is averaging 236.3 yards rushing and 231.5 yards passing this season.
“A lot of people talk about balance,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. “But those are pretty stout numbers both directions.
DEFENSIVE DEMEANOR: The Hoosiers couldn't stop anybody, including Michigan, on defense last season. New defensive coordinator Tom Allen has turned their defense around. Indiana is giving up a much more reasonable 28.4 points per game and has allowed only three teams to top the 30-point mark. The Hoosiers have made the best improvement in yards allowed, giving up 392 yards this season, 117.5 fewer than they allowed last year.
HOOSIER IN BLUE: Michigan freshman Chris Evans, who is from Indianapolis, made the most of limited opportunities last week against the Hawkeyes. He had eight carries for 52 yards and none of his teammates with multiple carries averaged more than 2.8 yards per rushing attempt.